New Year Escapes
One of the best-kept secrets about the summer wildfires that ravage much of the West is the system of lookout towers that they have engendered, perched on spectacular vantage points throughout our national forests. While of no consequence during the June through September fire season, when they are occupied full-time by firewatchers, these simple cabins offer dependable shelter for outdoor enthusiasts during the winter months, when they are available to the public for a nominal fee. Though a New Year's visit to a lookout will probably entail a sound sleep long before midnight, the view from your window as the sun rises on the first of the year is guaranteed to inspire.
Accommodations are by no means luxuriousthe cabins generally measure 14 feet by 14 feet and are equipped with a simple propane stove, table, chairs, and a bedbut the views they afford, given their purpose, are absolutely breathtaking.
One such cabin is the Fivemile Butte Fire Lookout, located 12 miles southeast of Mount Hood in the Barlow Ranger District. Perched atop a 30-foot wood structure, this cozy lair is surrounded by a catwalk and has a rope and pulley system for hauling gear up from the ground. Visitors are limited to four at a time, but for $30 a night, who's gonna argue?
Fivemile is ideal for an intimate New Year's getaway: It's an easy to moderate four-hour ski to the cabin, there is limitless backcountry terrain accessible from the site, you're bound to have the surrounding forest to yourself, and the access road is a mere 90 minutes from Portland.
For general information on the Pacific Northwest Fire Lookout Rental Program, write to the Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Recreation Cabin Rental Directory, P.O. Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208-3623. For information on renting the Fivemile Butte Lookout, contact the Barlow Ranger District via the Dufur Ranger Station at 780 NE Court Street, Dufur, OR 97021; (541) 467-2291. Alternatively, visit Nature of the Northwest for more information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication